That said, I do feel a true sense of having come through the dark woods, over the high mountain, and now being on the straight path home. I expect Kubo to try to spook me or throw a crazy snake in the road here and there, but somehow it is starting to feel familiar now—like, the narrative is coming to a natural conclusion. Just about everyone and his sister predicted that Yachiru would be Kenpachi’s sword. That was a fan theory going back ages. Grimmjow rollicking around in the plot being an audience-pleaser is no surprise either; I remember rolling my eyes over the debates as to whether he was alive or dead, but I never doubted he was FINE. Same goes for Kira. Hell, call me crazy for thinking that Ulquiorra will return to throw his Chekov’s lanza at some point, but I’ve been batting 1000 with these guys returning (It helps that Kubo has a hard time killing characters—and I knew he would NEVER kill Byakuya, like hell he wouldn’t). Ulquiorra may have had a perfect death, but he’s always had “Rise From the Ashes 2” written all over him.
The most activity my fanblog bleachness saw was back in 2009, during the Lust Arc preceding Ulquiorra’s death. Back then, Bleach had a whirlwind of fans and fan controversy to boot. When Ulquiorra died, there was a huge reverberation in the fandom as it tried to process the Arrancar arc, many finding that last scene touching but ultimately unsatisfying, especially in comparison to how the Soul Society arc had ended—which, I’d always argued, was Kubo’s point. The man loves parallels.
Bleach seemed to die with Ulquiorra. It never recovered its popularity after that time. I'd always championed it along, through its most plodding post SS days and even unto the despised Fullbringer arc (which I loved--it only took a little over a year to tell and it retold the ur-conception of Ichigo's power in a way that added some mythological oomph to the story--I, for one, wasn't flipping my cans over jokes that didn't hit the spot or Orihime munching one too many donuts) I knew even as I loved Bleach when it was floundering--it's pretty hard to ignore Kubo’s propensity to ignore fan favorites while creating new characters no one was much interested in. And another flaw he developed post SS was structuring fights that seemed to have no real emotional stakes... and yet, he pushed his story forward, playing with parables, toying with visual puns, amusing himself with high literary allusions and making dick jokes, and then every once in a while pulling off a stunning gaiden like Turn Back the Pendulum or Memories in the Rain—both well-told, poetically dense tales that not only stood alone as good stories but changed the main storyline forever. I’ll always love Kubo. He’s come back time and time again for me, if Ulquiorra hasn’t yet.
I realized the other day that I rarely check my own Bleach fanblog anymore. I still religiously read Bleach. I still love the hell out of the series, even as thousands have left it, bemoaning its convoluted plot and artsy excesses. I probably love Bleach as much for those very flaws as anything else, the way it lingers on a close-ups of doorknob or makes an excessive metaphor out of a moon sliver that looks like a toe-nail clipping in the sky.
When Ishida Uryuu, my favorite character, had his recent moment of realizing that there was some flaw in Haschwalth’s foresight, smiled his little Ishida half-smile, made some speech in keeping with Bleach’s great theme of destiny and materialized his bow, I flailed to the left, flailed to the right and fell out of my chair like electrocuted. I still think that maybe after Ishida goes Volstandig and after Ichigo reaches Yhwach (yeah, like right, Ichigo is just going to kill the dude in his sleep—not gonna be that easy), something bad will happen, and we may end up with that teased at Ishida/Ichigo fight after all.
When Urahara said ban kai not long ago, there was similar flailing. Benihime may be my favorite zan yet—she’s truly gorgeous and terrifying in all ways and I’m certain we haven’t seen the last of her. Askin was the most elegant and satisfying opponent, and his death was savage—wow, what a way to go--and I'm sure he’s dead because the four reiatsu that Neliel senses are Urahara’s, Yoruichi’s, Yoru’s brother’s, and Grimmjow’s. That story of that rescue has to be told too—and Kubo did promise us a Kisuke/Yoruichi backstory. I’m not worried for Kisuke’s life for one second. I do admit I was scared for Shunsui back there during his chapters but his ban kai seemed all about suicide so can you blame me? I guess I was having a bad week. Anyway, Urahara will be fine. Let’s see how he gets out of this pickle.
When Kenpachi got ban kai, though, I didn’t fail or get up and fanboy whoot, I sat in my chair and outright cried. I don’t know why. That story is one of the loveliest in Bleach. Say what you will about Kenpachi being an overpowered, one-note character but his relationship with Yachiru, the little pink-haired foundling, is one of Kubo’s best done. The whole theme of naming which echoes over and over in the story, the communing with one’s true soul, the idea that this little girl is Kenpachi’s beast killer nature and she’s been by his side all along—didn’t we all know this? It was like the best of revelations, to understand something that we’ve understood for years. There was a part of me that very much needed to see that little girl tell a man who had just been splatted onto the ground by all that was irrational and mighty that he was silly and needed to get up, that he had the power and it was called “ban kai.” I cried.
I love Bleach. It’s moments like that one I’d waited years for.